Friday, March 27, 2009

Communion Meditation – A Tale of Two Traitors

Grace is often a difficult concept to grasp. God’s grace requires that we simply accept the fact that we are lost without Jesus’ sacrifice, and that we accept his gift of redemption. It is not conditional, nor does it require me to live a perfect life before it takes effect. But we cannot forget that it requires our acceptance. Without that, we are indeed lost.

In the single day leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, two people betrayed him. The one we often think about when we use the word betrayal is, of course, Judas Iscariot. Judas sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver, kissed him on the cheek, and gave him up to the authorities to die a cruel death. But after Jesus’ trial, Matthew 27: 3-4 says, “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned’, he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’”

Judas’ reaction was one of despair. Clearly, the weight of the act he had committed was torture to his soul – so much, that he immediately went out and hung himself. How tragic an end! Even after his betrayal of Jesus, I believe he could have been forgiven, but he simply saw himself as too far from God’s grace. In an effort to get away from the pain, he chose to quickly leave this life – certainly to be greeted by an eternity of something much, much worse.

We rarely use the term “traitor” when we talk of Peter. Yet, he denied knowing Jesus three different times in a very short time frame. In fact, it would seem that he did this within sight of Jesus’ trial, because Mark 22:61 tells us that just after Peter’s third denial, “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” He remembered Jesus’ prediction of his denial, which he had adamantly argued against, and his heart was broken. Scripture tells us that “he went outside and wept bitterly.”

Was Peter tempted to do the same as Judas and end his life right there? Perhaps. But Peter did not kill himself, though he must have agonized for the three days that Jesus was in the tomb. The Bible does not tell us what happens to him during this time.

When Jesus’ disappearance from the tomb is reported to the disciples by Mary Magdalene, Peter is the first one to enter the tomb. He goes away confused. What was he feeling at this point? Was he worried that Jesus might be alive, and ready to take revenge on those who had betrayed him three days earlier? Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ ministry and purpose was certainly imperfect at this point. So what does he do? Probably the same thing that a lot of us do when things get stressful. He went fishing.

After recognizing Jesus at the shore, the disciples return, led by an anxious Simon Peter. And it is at this beach scene that Jesus does something beautiful. He asks Peter specifically, “Do you truly love me?” – not once, not twice, but three times. The significance of this should not be lost on us. Jesus knew that Peter needed to make this confession three times to atone for his three previous denials. Peter did not understand this at the time, but I’m certain that he did when reflecting on it in future years. His own betrayal of the Lord was wiped clean, and he was ready to start anew in serving the Lord. And this he did.

The choice was there for both of these men, and they each took different paths. The results for each man were radically different. The parallel of this story to our own is not accidental. After our denial, God gives each of us a choice – to remove ourselves from His presence, or to accept His grace. Which will you choose?